Swine flu hot topic for Obama in Mexico

Discussions about H1N1, or “swine flu,” will likely dominate President Obama’s meetings beginning Sunday with leaders of Canada and Mexico, according to senior administration officials.

Trade issues and drug violence will also be on the table when Obama makes his second trip as president to Mexico for the North American Summit in Guadalajara with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, officials said.

ADVERTISEMENT
But given the ongoing concerns about a flu pandemic, the H1Ni virus will be at the top of the list.

“I think everybody recognizes that H1N1 is going to be a challenge for all of us, and there are people who are going to be getting sick in the fall and die,” said John Brennan, deputy national security advisor. “The strategy and the effort on the part of the governments is to make sure we do everything possible and we collaborate to minimize the impact, and make sure that the severity of the illness is kept at a minimum.”

Officials, briefing reporters in advance of the trip last week, noted that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was in Cancun recently discussing the flu with her Mexican and Canadian counterparts.

Brennan said that the focus of the trilateral meeting will be discussing the flu “in terms of vaccine development, distribution, antiviral distribution, the community mitigation measures that we”re taking in our respective countries, how we’re trying to ensure that we're going to do everything possible to minimize the impact of H1N1.”

Trade issues, like Mexico's tariffs in retaliation for the congressional halt of a pilot program allowing Mexico truckers to use U.S. highways, and Canada's disdain for the “Buy American” provision in the stimulus package, will largely be confined to bilateral meetings the president has with the two leaders.

The sticky issue of the truckers will likely be the focus of Calderon and Obama's meeting, and officials said it “is an area that we're quite focused on.”

“We're working with Congress to address safety concerns that they have about the U.S.-Mexican trucking program, and we'll do so in a way that's consistent with our international obligations,” said Mike Froman, deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs.

National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones said the themes of the summit are economic recovery and competitiveness; citizen safety and security; and clean energy and climate change.

Jones also said that the administration sees the summit “as an opportunity to prepare for the Pittsburgh G20 summit, while also addressing how we can enhance North American competitiveness, and ensure that our trade arrangements protect our workers and our environment for the benefit of all in North America.”

“Our engagement with the Western Hemisphere is critical to advancing our national interests, and key for our security and economic well-being,” Jones said. “The president is committed to building and strengthening partnerships with countries throughout the hemisphere.”

Obama is scheduled to depart for Mexico on Sunday and return to Washington on Monday.